Prince William executive proposes $975 million budget for fiscal 2015

Prince William County Executive Melissa S. Peacor proposed a $975 million budget for fiscal 2015 on Tuesday, which would mean an $85 increase in taxes for the average household if passed by the Board of County Supervisors.

In addition, Peacor and Finance Director Steven A. Solomon presented a five-year revenue and spending projection that reflected plans to hire many fewer police officers, firefighters and county government employees than earlier plans had intended.

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Several supervisors expressed objections to the budget proposals and voiced their intention to reshape it before passing a final budget in late April.

Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) said that the county would need to hire more employees as its population grows in the next five years.

“I see no investment in the community, and I quite frankly think that this budget does jeopardize the vision we have of being a community of choice,” Principi said. “I’ll tell you that for my eighth of the board, this budget is DOA: dead on arrival. This does not reflect the kind of investment that I’d like to see in this community.”

Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Potomac) said that the budget and the accompanying five-year plan seemed to rely on a high number of home sales in the county without making plans to accommodate the children that new residents would bring to the already crowded schools.

The proposed 2015 budget would raise the county’s general fund expenditures 1.3 percent, a smaller increase than the previous three years, when expenditures grew between 2.6 and 5.5 percent each year. The budget would raise the average residential tax bill by 2.5 percent, to just under $3,500. The tax rate would be $1.126 per $100 of assessed value.

In January, Peacor told supervisors that the county faced a $15 million budget shortfall.

The five-year plan presented Tuesday reflected the county’s changed expectations, differing sharply from a five-year plan presented a year ago. For instance, the plan adopted last year projected that the county would add more than 1,300 apartment units in fiscal 2015, then an additional 900 the next year. The plan that Solomon presented Tuesday changed those projections sharply, predicting just 550 new units in the upcoming year but more than 2,200 units in 2016.

Peacor told the board that the most costly must-do items in the 2015 budget were a $1.5 million increase in line-of-duty death benefits for emergency personnel; a $900,000 increase in funding for staff, food and maintenance at the county’s overcrowded jail; and half a million dollars in funding for programming for a growing number of at-risk youths in the county.

Additional costly items that Peacor mentioned from the 2015 budget include $1.36 million in funding for police hiring, $600,000 to hire staff members for two libraries opening in September 2015, a total of more than $600,000 to build and upgrade numerous parks, and half a million dollars to station ambulances in Coles to improve response times there.

But the proposed five-year plan leaves no funding to hire any more government staff members from fiscal 2016 through 2019, and it would allow the police and fire departments to hire far fewer new members than earlier plans had projected. Peacor cautioned that these stringent hiring expectations and the plight of the jail, which would remain overcrowded, should be causes for concern in the projected budget.

Members of the public can offer opinions on the budget at a hearing April 8 and on the county’s budget Web site, www.pwcgov.org/budget.

 
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